Minneapolis and St. Paul are known as the Twin Cities. One (St. Paul) has enjoyed a competent, public service-focused police department for all of my nearly 40 years of living in the area. The other (Minneapolis) has long been plagued by a police department that is often overly aggressive and racist in its actions.
As I’ve previously written, I personally encountered MPD cops who were corrupt, lazy, incompetent, racist and brutal. Without going into great detail, I’ve seen MPD cops shake down a bar owner. I’ve witnessed a group of six officers acting as a violent gang that needlessly beat, kicked, stomped, and maced a black man who was handcuffed face down in the snow, slush and ice. And I served on a jury for a case in which the police failed to interview even a single witness to a so-called assault.
The list of such incidents is long.
So, when George Floyd was murdered by a MPD Field Training Officer, I was not surprised. But I am surprised that, after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder, the MPD would be so quickly back in the headlines for killing an innocent black man, especially after it narrowly dodged an attempt to replace the department with a new department of public safety.
Sure, some things have changed. The previous head of the much too powerful police federation resigned. But I suspect the Federation still has more control over the department than the mayor, city council and police chief combined. And though the previous chief has retired, the interim police chief, Amelia Huffman, was promoted from within. She has been with the MPD for 27 years. That’s 27 years of being influenced by the status quo.
Despite the MPD’s long history of problematic behavior by some of its officers, in the first interview after her appointment, Huffman proudly stated that she “loves” the MPD. She went on to state, “As a department, we must collectively recognize that rebuilding trust and enhancing public safety will require excellence in the line of duty as well as a willingness to embrace bold community safety and reform strategies.”
How has she demonstrated that commitment to excellence and reform?
When asked to cooperate with the St. Paul Police Department in executing a warrant for the arrest of a suspect in a St. Paul murder case, the MPD demanded a “No-Knock” warrant (a practice that the St. Paul police abandoned in 2016). And when a Minneapolis officer shot an innocent young man as a result, the MPD initially issued a press release in which it referred to the victim as a suspect. Only later did it acknowledge that Amir Locke was not named in the warrant and had no criminal history. And, when questioned by reporters, Huffman walked out of a press conference even after promising full transparency. (The MPD still claims the shooting was necessary because the victim pointed a gun at officers.)
If it wasn’t obvious to everyone before the Locke murder, it should now be abundantly clear that the MPD needs drastic change. There are, no doubt, many good officers within the department. But it needs a large influx of new public service-focused officers that are representative of the various neighborhoods within the city. It needs a complete new set of operating standards. It needs better training. It needs to be restructured. And it desperately needs new leadership from outside the department.
It needs its own Chief William K. Finney – the man who made the St. Paul Police Department seem like the polar opposite of the MPD.